During the 1990's and even during the early 2000's, owning a phone, albeit a landline, was a matter of pride. Not everybody could own a phone, let alone boast about it. At times, one phone would have sufficed the needs of all the families in a four-storied building.
In the last one decade, the most popular device of communication has moved from table tops and landed into our palms. A phone is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity. Moreover, internet access through these devices has broadened our horizons a step further and taken our reach to a global scale. They have revolutionised the way we communicate, conduct our lifestyles, approach businesses, andentertain ourselves.
Manufacturers are constantly competing with each other to give their devices the best new look and features to attract new customers. As a result, new phones are continuously being introduced into the market, making it very difficult to stick to old sets. The biggest question then is: what do we do with the old mobile phone?
The average life span of a mobile phone in the hands of the average user is roughly a year. Users replace their old handsets with different models available in the market. Usually, further technology advancement, innovative features, and hardware capabilities compel users to purchase a new phone. While a lot of the users sell their old phones to make way for the new, in the majority of the cases, at least in the urban setting, the old phones land in the furthest end of a drawer and their existence is gradually forgotten.
These forgotten phones, rediscovered during a spring cleaning, end up in dumpsters along with other broken disposables. From there, they end up in massive landfills that are already health hazards. Mobile phones, however, probably contain the most hazardous elements of all compared to the rest of the debris in a landfill.
The electronic circuitry of mobile phones contains a number of harmful chemicals, including mercury, cadmium, lead, beryllium, and flame retardants. If disposed of incorrectly or placed in a landfill, these toxic substances can leak out and contaminate the soil and drinking water. The cadmium in one mobile phone battery could be enough to contaminate about 600,000 litres of water. Flame retardants, lead, and beryllium used in the making of mobile phone circuits can cause many serious illnesses, including cancer, liver damage, and damage to the nervous systems. The mercury used in mobile phone displays and circuit boards may contribute to brain and kidney damage. It is disconcerting that one teaspoon of mercury can potentially contaminate a 20-acre lake forever.
In recent years, more than 30 million mobile phones are put out of service annually; these out-of-function handsets are a growing cause of environmental pollution. The numbers are likely to increase in the coming years as the country is making steady economic progress. Imagine the amount of e-waste and chemical pollution we will have to live with in the future!
This is one predicament, as responsible citizens of this country and the Earth, we cannot afford to overlook. The recent agreement in Paris among the global leaders dictates that each country determines its own contribution towards mitigating global warming and bettering the environment. We can start from our own homes.
The first step can be to recycle our old phones or help a responsible entity recycle them. As a responsible entity, Grameenphone has launched an initiative to collect old mobile phones at the Grameenphone Centres and recycle them in an environment-friendly scientific process. This will prevent hazardous materials in mobile phones from polluting the environment. We are urging everybody to play their part in this initiative. This is everyone's responsibility. Our responsibility lies not only towards our family or our country but also towards our fellow human beings, most importantly the generations to come, across the globe. Let's make a pledge to take responsibility to keep our environment safe and green.
Writer is the Chief Corporate Affairs Officer of Grameenphone